We Might Be Lost

So there are times when I’m out in the wild and something out of the ordinary happens.  Maybe an unexpected bird decides to come out and pose for me or the light will hit a subject just right to reveal an awesome shot otherwise hidden in an overcast day.  There are times when I’ve come face to face with a creature higher on the predator list than I was adequately prepared to deal with and wandered into areas where the daylight’s false sense of security relented to uncomfortable darkness.  With all those experiences, I had really never experienced a “what the hell is that” followed quickly by the unsettling thought “where the hell am I !?!” .. that is until last December while on our birding trip down the Texas Gulf Coast.  Linda had given me a Texas birding book that we were using to find places we had missed on our previous trips.   One of the recommended places was at the end of Smith Point Road near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.  Since that was a planned stop anyway, we detoured slightly to check it out.

Plains Zebra found in Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge at end of Smith Point Road\

When we arrived, the road that followed shoreline was closed.  That literally left us at the end of road right at the waterline.  Linda turned the RV around and parked it off the road.  I jumped out to see what I could fill the tin with.  Not sure if it was the unseasonably cold weather they were having or the generally drab day, but there was very little moving about.  Snapped a few shots of a Tern hunting quite a ways off the shore.  Three Brown Pelicans then came flying by warranting some attention even though Brown Pelicans in Texas might as well be shooting Bison in Yellowstone – sure it’s exciting for the first 50 encounters, but soon after the thrill subsides.  Eventually found myself trying to track a Sparrow through a nearby thicket.  It is there I looked up and uttered those alarming words.  There in front of me was a Zebra staring right at me.  Somewhere Linda had apparently made a very wrong turn – last I checked those black and white beasts preferred the Serengeti, not a field on the Gulf of Texas.  Even went over to tell Linda so she could check my sanity..  One thing for sure, this was a lot more interesting to shoot than a Sparrow.

Hit the jump to see a couple more shots of our mysterious friend.

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They Must be Brilliant

Ian Plant Seminar Peoria Camera Club March 24th 2018Howdy everyone! It’s been a rough couple of days for me due to a medical procedure that I had to have today. Definitely not one of those experiences I want to go through again anytime soon.  The good news is it over now and everything came out good. The doctors want me to take it easy until the effects completely wear off which is good news for my readers – nothing better for a night of relaxation than typing a few paragraphs out on the keyboard for another post. Oh, by the way, the doctors did recommend I avoid going to places like Amazon until my head clears all the way – might end up buying a year’s worth of jams from around the world hehehe. So I Thought I’d feature a topic that didn’t required a lot of prep work and thus going with a recollection from a recent photography seminar Linda and I went to a couple of weeks back. Since it covered both landscape and wildlife topics, went ahead and put it on my wildlife blog as well.

Last year we went to see Bryan Peterson’s photography seminar on “The Art of Seeing”. I was very familiar with Bryan’s published worked and have always considered his Understanding Exposure book to be the best reference for those wanting to turn their camera mode dial to ‘M’ (if you are still using the Automatic or ‘P’ modes, pick up that book and start getting the value out of all that money you spent on your gear). Unlike last year, this year the Peoria Camera Club invited a speaker neither Linda nor I were familiar with. We ended up going to his site (link here) and needless to say was impressed with his work.  Based on his portfolio it looked like it covered both my wife’s preferred genre as well as my own wildlife preferences.  Only tough part was investing $75/person and uncertain whether we were going to get something for that large investment – you can buy a lot of books or a short trip out into the field for $150.  After some debating we opted to do it – if nothing else, this is something we enjoy spending time together doing each year.  Turns out the day of the seminar the Heartland got pounded with a white out blizzard that eventually accumulated over 9 inches.  We live in the country so trekking out in the deep stuff didn’t bother us much although seeing all the vehicles in the ditches on our way was a bit concerning.  The aggressive off-roading tires on my new truck ate that white stuff up for breakfast.  Old Man Winter did manage to defeat about half the attendees that were planned to attend. We did get the opportunity to meet some of the members of the Camera Club and spend some time with Julie who I met for the first time during my Audubon speech last month (link here) – an amazing wildlife photographer in her own right.

Ian Plant’s seminar took the exact opposite theme from Bryan’s talk the previous year.  While that speech was on the Art of Seeing, Ian’s seminar was entitled Unseeing: Taking Photos with Attitude.  Note, it was a bit refreshing that Ian didn’t continually talk about his ex wives or his pension for recreational drugs like Bryan did.  From a summary perspective, we both thought we received value from our investment.  Ian was very personable to the attendees and kept us all entertained until the end.  It also helps that his photography portfolio contains some absolute stunners.  For the same reason we go to local photography competitions, seeing captured images that are better than yours is the best inspiration there is.  Every interesting angle or interpretation of a scene broadens our boundaries and puts another idea in the toolbox.  If I had to pick the two most informative elements of Ian’s presentation, I’d have to go with shooting wide vertical and shooting into the sun.  Probably an hour into the talk, someone commented he must be cropping a lot out of his pictures based on the fact he was using a wide angle lens.  Ever have one of those moments when your entire understanding of something you’ve been looking at for a while suddenly gets turned on its head?  Ian’s response to the question did that – “I didn’t crop anything – I shoot vertical”.  Whoa!  Now, that was a new concept for both my wife and I.  In fact he followed it up with “amateurs shoot wide horizontal”.  It all became crystal clear how he was getting such huge depth in his shots from the sky almost directly above him down to a few feet out from his shoes.  You can then control the perspective of the background objects (like mountains) by simply tilting the camera up or down.  He also shoots wildlife wide and those familiar with that glass know how close you have to get pictures with that gear.  He mentioned several times he put himself in harm’s way by moving with his eye through the glass and not realizing he had put himself in dangerous proximity to animals that could kill him. Learned that lesson a long time ago – move in the field with both your eyes open or away from the camera – this photographer will NEVER forget almost bringing his foot down on the head of an Alligator in the Georgia swamps.

On the shooting into the sun aspect, his wildlife silhouettes are absolutely breathtaking and something I would have no problems proudly displaying on my walls.  The simplicity of the outline cast by the sun is captivating and such a stark contrast from his landscape photography which is packed full from foreground to background.  This is something I am plan to try this year while out in the field.  Guessing it is a lot easier said than done, but who isn’t up for a good challenge.  Guessing Linda is going to try out some wide vertical shots the next time she is out with the waterfalls (especially since Ian just called her out as an amateur hehehe).  Couple of closing points.  Ian is also big into drone photography.  Apparently he has crashed a few and has since opted for the cheaper versions – my personal concern is where are those crashed drones ending up.  Ever since some idiot dropped one in the Yellowstone Grand Prismatic my opinions of drones have been seriously tainted (link here).  Ian also doesn’t like photographing the circle of life in action – his story about Lioness’ taking out a male Wildebeest had a traumatic impact on him – much like when he found out how some photographers get those great action shots of predator birds coming toward the camera.  A dark little fact that non wildlife photographers probably don’t realize and a technique I am very much opposed to.

In summary, we definitely enjoyed Ian’s talk and worth our investment.  Can’t wait to try out some of the things we learned in the field.  Be sure and check out Ian’s work if you haven’t already done that.   I’ll leave you with his comment that gave me the biggest chuckle of the day “If others don’t like you photographs it is probably brilliant because you can see what others can’t”.  Definitely going to be my go to response whenever Linda rolls her eyes at some of my shots hehehe.

Be sure and hit the jump to see more of my takeaways from Ian ‘s talk – the shocking thing is how much I can remember from two weeks ago when I’ve appeared to completely forgotten what I did or said for about 1.5 hours after my procedure today.  Linda keeps asking me if I remember doing this and that and I have zero recollection.  If jams in Amazon boxes start showing up at the door we will all know why.

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Less Bitter

First off, Happy Easter to everyone!  If all goes well today, I’ll be adding a check on my birding list thanks to a quick trip up north.  Ron has alerted me to a bird hanging out around Joliet that I still need to get in the tin.  Apparently this particular specimen has decided to get chummy with a local flock.  The current plan is to catch some birding at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.  The wind is supposed to die down, but the mercury dropped as well.  Hmm, guessing the younger generation doesn’t know what that means anymore – I remember as a kid having mercury races on the school bus – put a drop in each of the channels of the rubber mat that ran the length of the bus between the seats and see which one made it to the back of the bus by the end of the trip – then again, somewhat amazed it didn’t cause serious health damage.   In honor of going after a new bird, decided to feature another new check on my list.

Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016

That there is a Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016.  By now you should be very familiar with that birding sight on the South Texas Gulf Coast.  Someday I should count up all the +1’s my two trips to that location have netted.  Guessing it rivals the impressive counts obtained at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve in Nevada.  That isn’t even considering the improved pictures I was able to get in the tin for birds already on the list.  This particular find almost went unnoticed in the digital darkroom.

Least Bittern discovered at South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center in December 2016

Hit the jump to see another version of this picture and learn a bit (ha) more about this Bittern.

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A Slower Life

Just got back from a photography seminar by Ian Plant (link here). For the last three years, Linda and I have been going to the Peoria Camera Club featured photography speakers.  The first two had speakers we were very familiar with, however, Ian was new to us and we did not know what to expect.  There was some hesitation this year due to the fact that the $75/person fee is a pretty steep if you are unsure if you are going to get any takeaways for the investment.  We checked out his site and his work was very interesting – he also ranged from landscape to wildlife which covered both our interests.  Being that it was our little thing we do together, we took a chance.  We definitely didn’t expect the 9+ inches of snow accumulation that started late last night and has continued throughout the day.  This kept a lot of planned attendees home – living in the country we are accustomed to the slippery driving conditions and made it there without incident (can’t say the same for all the trucks and cars we passed in the ditches on our way there).  Turned out we had a great time and have new ideas to try out next time we are in the field.  Also had a chance to mingle with some of the Peoria Camera Club members which was fun as well.

Having been inspired by Ian today, thought I’d go ahead and put out another post.

Texas Tortoise found at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Nope, that isn’t a bird for a change!  Based on the multitude of hate mail sacks that hit our front door, it was apparent that you wanted a break from the birds.  After a quick look through my queue, I found this prehistoric throwback and thought it would fit the bill.  Granted, I did come upon this slow moving creature in the midst of birding Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on our Texas birding trip back in January 2017.  This would have been our first visit to the Sticky Mud Lagoon (in case you were wondering what Atascosa means), quickly making its way into my top 10 birding locations.  Just be sure and keep a close eye on the road into that place or plan a visit to your favorite tire alignment technician.  Actually, let’s call it a giant pothole that leads into the park that happens to have some high gravel parts in it.

Texas Tortoise found at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in January 2017

Hit the jump to read more about this featured creature!

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Recollection: Driven to Fix

Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines Whew, it’s been a long road to get to this point. As mentioned previously, my spare time lately has been spent running between the digital darkroom and wildlife posting with multiple side jaunts to the reference library. With the Audubon talk officially wrapped up, things are starting to get back to normal – well, at least a little more routine for me. Seems like something is always happening around here that needs attention. Unfortunately, a lot of that “happening” involves some fix or update to the house or outbuilding. This is likely why one of my guilty pleasures is watching the DIY and multitude of flipping shows – of course, some of that is a direct result of the rapidly growing number of entertainers that have earned their way onto my LIST (running out of channels that have anything I want to watch). One of the flipper shows has always stood out from the rest and appropriately named Fixer Upper. Chip and Joanna Gaines have managed to get me addicted to their show due to a mixture of interesting design, truly talented constructions skills and humorous banter. Not sure how, but I discovered that Chip had a book out that gave an opportunity to learn a bit more about his life, what makes him tick and hopefully gave some background on how the show came to be. That book, Capital Gains: Smart Thinks I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff quickly made its way into my Amazon cart.  Chip definitely gives some deep insights into the experiences that set him on his life course. From the shows, it was obvious he was into sports, so it seemed fitting when he told the story about his Dad being his baseball coach and how that led to playing for Baylor University (for his freshman year). At the same time he was cultivating an entrepreneur spirit which led to running 3 businesses which included flipping houses.

One thing you can definitely tell from the show is Chip is extremely positive. Definitely a glass half full individual that drips with self confidence and genuine compassion for his fellow man. From the exemplary parenting, obvious love for his wife and caring for his crew and customers, it is clear his life is built on a strong foundation. After reading this book, it is clear, this foundation is built from a strong faith. Chip and Joanna firmly believe that God has the ability to initiate direction and when that happens they are all in to get to that destination. Based on what they have been able to accomplish, I’d say this commitment has served them well. The Magnolia empire is thriving and their family bonds are some the strongest I’ve ever witnessed (the latter being an ever deteriorating aspect of our society). As an overall summary, this was a quick and uplifting read. You definitely get more background on his path through life and that wicked scar he sports on his forehead (he picked the image for the cover because it showed that feature). In fact, my favorite part of the book was his explanation on how he earned that scar complete with an absolutely hilarious hand drawn picture of the event – priceless. He also treats this book as a way to help the reader find the right path for themselves. There is even a section at the end to write down thoughts and personal assessments to improve your own foundation. If there is a downside, you really do not get much insight to the show other than I learned HGTV came to them to pitch the show. There also isn’t anything related to his skill progression in construction – I am definitely jealous of his “skilz”. Chip is an upstanding guy and I think that is why I enjoy spending time with him each week. The Chip you see in front of the camera is the same Chip once the camera’s stop rolling – definition of genuine. It is disappointing to know they are ending the show this year, but all good things come to an end and maybe God might nudge them back into the lights in the future.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways:

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The Evening Star

Ever been tasked with something you weren’t sure about?  Maybe you committed to an event that might be (way) outside your comfort zone to the point it starts to produce stress several months out from the designated day?  How about being cast in a situation where the audience probably knows more about the topic you are presenting than you do?  Okay, now imagine a situation where ALL those conditions come to the same confluence and you are standing in the middle wondering if the current is going to drag you under.  That is my best analogy of what Wednesday evening felt like to me.

Vesper Sparrow discovered at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in December 2016

I eluded to a commitment I had made last December but really didn’t go into it – choosing to wait and see what kind of disaster would occur.  History has taught me humbleness over embarrassment, obscurity over grandstand and work before celebration.  Those tenets have served me well.  It is also the reason for the stress over the last several months.  Last year, I had mentioned my interest in birding and wildlife to a member of my wife’s dog club (Carol).  Not sure how, but somewhere in that conversation it came up I had a blog.  Carol is also the catalyst for extracting my wildlife content into a separate site for broader consumption.  Turns out Carol is currently the president of the Peoria Audubon Society and asked if I would give a presentation on my blogging and photography.   Whoa, that’s definitely putting the big boy pants on.  At the insistence of my wife and brother, I confirmed and we eventually set the date.

Vesper Sparrow discovered at William Goodrich Jones State Forest in December 2016

Hit the jump to find out what this bird is … well, maybe ha!

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Paying It Forward

Tonight has been quite the event.  Headed out to Menards to get a number of 2x4s and other materials for a new project for the garage.  Sparing you the details, but thanks to an ill advised decision by the managers there, but I’ll be getting my lumber from other merchants going forward.  I only mention that to set the mood as I was already perturbed before a White-Tailed Buck opted for a game of Chicken on the way back home.  Barely avoided that before hearing a loud crash at the rear of the truck.  Those of us in big Deer populated areas know all too well, that you need to always be aware of the companions that cross behind.  Looked through my rear view mirror and groaned – couldn’t see the lumber anymore. Pulled to the side and braced myself for disappointment and went back to check the damage.  Turns out hard braking to avoid the Buck caused the tailgate to give way – that was the crash, not another Deer.  Wood was still there, just below my view line in the bed.  Now doubly perturbed, had to slam on the breaks for a second time thanks to a stupid black Cat playing Frogger across my driveway.  Some days it is just better to stay in bed!  Decided the best way to beat the stress was to post on a more uplifting experience. With that I bring you another new check in my birding list.

Common Pauraque discovered at Laguna Atascosa, Los Fresnos, TX in December 2017

How cool is that!  Wait, you can’t see that?  Well, don’t feel too bad, I definitely didn’t see it at first either.  Backing up a bit, I was taking pictures of the Golden-Fronted Woodpecker that was featured several posts back (link here).  A refuge volunteer came up and asked me what I was taking pictures of.  If you recall that post you’ll understand my response was to point to the sign being used to brace the camera.   He then responded with “Do you want to see a Parrot playing croquet?”  Now I ask you, who doesn’t want to see a Parrot playing croquet?  Correct, no one.  Responding with “sure”, I let him pass to lead the way.  Linda (who had arrived at the same time as the volunteer) allowed our tour guide to get a small lead on us before asking me if I even knew what that was. She corrected suspected my response would be “Nope”. Figured it would be a Parrot with a large mallet.

Can you see it now?

Common Pauraque discovered at Laguna Atascosa, Los Fresnos, TX in December 2017

No worries, I was having an equally hard time.

Hit the jump to find out what’s lurking in the brush.

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One Bad Toupee

As hard as I’ve tried, I have yet to find a way to keep Father Time from turning over his hourglass.  Each little pebble of sand that falls is another step closer to my Texas birding post deadline.  There is light at the end of the tunnel though.  I only have a handful of posts that really need to be published before next Wednesday. That day will put an end to several months of stressing over a commitment that comes due.  I blame that for my hair turning premature grey ha!  Like me, some people embrace the signs of getting wiser, others take more drastic actions to disguise the fact that Father Time paints in grey – case in point…

Black-Crested Titmouse found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2018

This find from our recent Texas birding trip is apparently a little vain about what others think of his greying appearance.  The shame sunk so deep in the conscious it has resorted to Le Style de Burt Reynolds.  One can imagine the scene before heading out of the nest for the day.  Mr. Titmouse slaps on his black rug, attempts to straighten it in the bathroom mirror before turning to Mrs. Titmouse and asking “do you think anyone will notice?”.  After stuttering and stammering love rules out and she responds “Of course not dear”, fighting back a revealing eye roll.

Black-Crested Titmouse found at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in January 2018

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this bird and where it was discovered.

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Shoots and Ladders

I actually thought we might be out of the cold for a while.  Temps were creeping back up to the point I was able to get multiple outdoor runs with minimal layers.  The downside in that it immediately convinces your body that running on a treadmill is beneath it – both metaphorically and literally ha!  Apparently it was just a tease being that it snowed this week and temps are hanging in the cold zone.  Good news for you, It is still a perfect temperature for birding in my den.

Today’s post happens to come from another one of our Texas birding shoots.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker discovered at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Texas December 2017

That there is a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker,. which of course prompted my groaner of a title.  The Ladder happens to be a +1 for my birding list, but this is not the only new experience I had that day. Should probably start by telling you where we were when Linda and I stumbled on this tree climbing Zebra.  On our trip back to Texas over the recent Christmas/New Year’s break, we headed back to our favorite birding spot – the Texas Gulf Coast.  This year we added an additional foray west along the southern tip of Texas.  One of those places we stopped was near Brownsville, Texas at a place called Sabal Palm Sanctuary.

Ladder-Backed Woodpecker discovered at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Texas December 2017

Hit the jump to read more about our visit to Sabal Palm Sanctuary.

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Expert Assist

There are times when you look at a bird and go hmmm. Then you look at the bird a little closer and go hmmm. You reach into your pocket, start up your favorite bird identification app, do a bit of searching and then go hmmm. Desperate you ask every person with a camera or binoculars slung around their neck what they think of said bird and now everyone collectively goes hmmm. Pretty soon there is quite the gaggle of humans staring at pretty bird simply sitting on a fence watching the sun go by.

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

If you haven’t guessed already, this is exactly one of those times. Linda and I were visiting one of our favorite birding locations along the Texas Gulf Coast – the South Padre Island Bird Viewing and Nature Center. This is our second time to this jewel of a birding place and each time it gets better and better. Oddly enough, we managed to show up there at the one year anniversary of being there back in December 2016. Ever get one of those times when you ask yourself if time travel might be possible and the unexpected side effect is you can’t remember initiating the time travel? (I have dibs on that idea before you get any thoughts of using that in a script hehehe).

Tropical Kingbird found at the South Padre Bird Viewing Center in December 2017

Hit the jump to find out more about this pretty bird!

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